Japanese people eat Tazukuri (Candied Baby Sardines) as part of Osechi Ryōri – the traditional New Year’s feast. It is made by coating dried baby sardines with a soy-flavoured glaze. It is very sweet and sticky, as most candied foods are.
When you bite into a tiny fish, you get an amazing crunchiness. It is so addictive that you won’t be able to stop eating it.
Candied Baby Sardines is called ‘tazukuri’ (田作り) in Japanese. These words do not explain what the dish looks like or how it is made. The word ‘ta’ (田) means rice field and ‘zukuri’ (作り) is a noun form of the word ‘tsukuru’ (作る), which means make.
The name of today’s dish came from the ancient practice of sardines being used as fertilizer in rice fields when an excessive volume of sardines was caught. When farmers used sardines as fertiliser, they had a good crop of rice. People then interpreted as sardines make good rice fields, i.e., making rice fields. Hence ‘Tazukuri’.
Tazukuri in Osechi Ryōri
As mentioned in my post Kobumaki, the Japanese New Year’s feast consists of many different dishes with specific meanings and each of them has a wish for the coming year.
Tazukuri relates to a good crop as mentioned earlier, and Japanese people eat Tazukuri and pray for a good harvest in the coming year.
Osechi Ryōri includes numerous dishes, and you can vary the combination of dishes as you wish. However, there are 3 celebratory dishes that you must include in the feast.
Tazukuri is one of them along with ‘kuromame’ (黒豆, sweet black soy beans) and ‘kazunoko’ (数の子, herring roe) in the Kantō region (the eastern part of Japan). In the Kansai region (the western part of Japan), Tataki Gobō replaces kazunoko.
Kuromame is to pray for longevity and health, kazunoko is for fertility, and Tataki Gobō is for good luck.
What’s in my Tazukuri (Candied Baby Sardines)
Tazukuri is a simple dish. It uses just dried sardines as main ingredient. The rest of the ingredients are used to make the sweet soy glaze.
- Dried baby sardines
- Oil to brush a tray
- Roasted white sesame seeds (optional)
- Cooking Sake
- Soy Sauce
The dried baby sardines used to make Tazukuri are called ‘gomame’ (ごまめ) or ‘tazukuri’ (田作り). Gomame is made by drying small sardines after rinsing them in water. The fish is not anchovies. On the other hand, the name of small dried fish that you use to make niboshi dashi is ‘niboshi‘ (煮干し). Niboshi is made by drying small sardines or anchovies after boiling them.
You should use gomame to make Tazukuri, but unfortunately, I could not find gomame even at Japanese grocery stores in Sydney. So, I bought nibbling niboshi from a Japanese grocery store as a substitute. I also made Tazukuri with Korean dried anchovies (mid-size of about 4-5cm/1½-2″ long) and it worked well too.
How to make Tazukuri (Candied Baby Sardines)
- Oil a tray very thinly using a brush. You need a tray to spread candied sardines to cool.
- Toast the dried baby sardines on a large frying pan over low heat until they are brittle.
- Make Soy Glaze.
- Mix the sardines into the Soy Glaze.
- Spread the candied sardines on the oiled tray to cool them down.
I used a non-stick tray, so I probably did not need to oil it. But it is safe to oil the tray because the candied sardines are very sticky.
When the baby sardines start making a faint crackling sound in the frying pan, they are very dry and ready.
I have published several dishes that are served at the New Year’s feast. Although they don’t make a perfect set of Osechi Ryōri, it looks pretty good when you serve them together.
What’s missing, perhaps, is a yellow dish to make it more colourful. I could buy a pack of kazunoko (herring roe) or add Dashimaki Tamago, although the standard egg dish included in Osechi Ryōri is a sweet rolled omelette called ‘datemaki’ (伊達巻), which I am hoping to publish one day.
Tazukuri (Candied Baby Sardines) keeps for about 10 days in the fridge. You can also freeze it for 1 month. When serving Tazukuri, leave it at room temperature for a while to let the glaze soften.
Other than serving Tazukuri as part of Osechi Ryōri, you can serve it as a small side dish as well as in a bento box.
Japanese people eat Tazukuri (Candied Baby Sardines) as part of Osechi Ryōri – the traditional New Year’s feats. Dried baby sardines are coated with soy-flavoured glaze. It is very sweet and sticky, as most candied foods are.
Don't forget to see the section 'MEAL IDEAS' below the recipe card! It gives you a list of dishes that I have already posted and this recipe that can make up a complete meal. I hope it is of help to you.
- 50g/1.8oz dried baby sardines (note 1)
- Oil to brush a tray (note 2)
- ½ tsp roasted white sesame seeds (optional)
Place a sheet of baking paper in a large frying pan (note 3) and heat over low heat.
Put the dried sardines onto the pan with the baking paper and roast them on low heat. Continue to move them around and toss them occasionally so that the sardines are evenly roasted.
When you start hearing a faint crackling sound from sardines (after about 8 minutes, note 4), turn the heat off.
Transfer the sardines from the pan to a plate by picking them up, instead of sliding the sardines from the paper to the plate (note 5).
Put all the Soy Glaze ingredients in a small saucepan (about 15cm/6” in diameter, note 6) and bring it to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook. It will thicken and the liquid will become bubbly.
When the large bubbles start rising (see the step-by-step photo in the post), remove the pot from the heat (note 7), then put the roasted sardines in immediately.
Mix the sardines gently but thoroughly ensuring that all sardines are fully coated with the glaze.
Spread the candied sardines on the oiled tray and let them cool down.
1. Dried sardines to make Candied Baby Sardines are called ‘gomame’ (ごまめ) or ‘tazukuri’ (田作り). The size of the fish is about 5cm/2" long. The fish is not anchovies that are often sold as ‘niboshi’ (煮干し) to make dashi stock.
I could not find gomame in Sydney, so I substituted it with nibling niboshi, which I purchased from a Japanese grocery store. It came in a pack (see the photo in the post).
You can also make Tazukuri with Korean dried anchovies. Korean dried anchovies come in a variety of sizes. You need to use mid-size anchovies of 4-5cm/1½-2" long.
2. If you are using a non-stick tray, you probably don’t have to oil your tray. My tray was non-stick, but I still oiled it just in case.
3. Roasting sardines on baking paper allows you to dry the sardines evenly. By having the paper, the fishy smell does not get to the frying pan, and you don’t need to wash the pan after use.
4. The cooking time varies depending on the thickness of your frying pan and the strength of the heat.
5. While roasting the sardines, piece of skins and heads come off the sardines. You don't want to include these pieces mixed into the glaze.
6. If your saucepan is too wide, the liquid spreads very thinly, resulting in the liquid evaporating and caramelising too fast. It becomes a bit difficult to control the caramelisation of the glaze. It is also difficult to coat the sardines with the glaze when the glaze is thinly spread.
7. The timing of removing the pot of Soy Glaze from the cooktop is quite important. If it is too early, the glaze is watery, if it is late, the glaze becomes too hard to coat sardines with. The right timing to remove the pot from the cooktop is when you see large bubbles start to rise in the pot.
Do not leave the pot on the hot cooktop as the glaze thickens further and becomes too hard.
8. Tazukuri (Candied Baby Sardines) keeps about 10 days in the fridge. You can also freeze it for 1 month. When serving after chilling it, leave Tazukuri at room temperature for a while to let the glaze soften.
9. Nutrition per serving, assuming 8 servings.
serving: 19g calories: 75kcal fat: 3.6g (6%) saturated fat: 0.3g (1%) trans fat: 0.0g polyunsaturated fat: 0.7g monounsaturated fat: 2.6g cholesterol: 2.1mg (1%) sodium: 270mg (11%) potassium: 85mg (2%) carbohydrates: 4.6g (2%) dietary fibre: 0g (0%) sugar: 4.2g protein: 5g vitamin a: 0% vitamin c: 0.1% calcium: 0.6% iron: 0.6%